Physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson gave his exercised take on sex and gender in a TikTok interview, but this section, shown below in a tweet, has caused considerable controversy on the internet, and was sent me by an offended woman reader. Have a listen:
“Today I feel 80% female, 20% male. I’m going to put on makeup”
Neil deGrasse Tyson defends the pseudoscience of Woke gender studies. pic.twitter.com/4G8KxnTaEs
— Mythinformed (@MythinformedMKE) July 31, 2023
In general, I agree with some of the things he says and disagree with others. To me, the two most bothersome things are his initial conflation of sex and gender. Sex is largely determined by chromosomal constitution (though it’s a correlate with the real criterion for biological sex: whether one has the equipment to make eggs or sperm), but Tyson immediately segues from biological sex into gender roles, saying that biological sex is “insufficient” to specify gender roles. Well, yes, that’s true, though the vast majority of people conform pretty well to an identifiable role. As, Tyson points out earlier in the interview (see link above), that you can with substantial accuracy identify someone’s biological sex from the “gender role” (earrings, makeup, clothes, etc.).
Where he’s right here is that nobody cares, or should care, whether someone conforms to the expected behavior and appearance of members of their biological sex. (People do care, of course about children being treated medically with hormones and surgery so their secondary sex characteristics conform to their own view of their gender.) And, in fact, do people really care that much? I thought most of the kerfuffle was about transgender people and not genderfluid people.
But then he goes wrong again when he adumbrates gender stereotypes:
Suppose no matter my chromosomes, today I feel 80% female 20% female. I’m gonna put on makeup. I’m gonna do this. Tomorrow I might feel 80% female. I’ll remove the makeup and put on a muscle shirt.
That offended my correspondent, who doesn’t consider herself genderfluid but objects to specifying makeup as the sign of a female gender and muscle shirts as the sign of male gender. Those are invidious gender stereotypes, and are opposed to the very kind of social pressure to which Tyson objects.
Below is a string of tweets from Kara Dansky, self-identified as “Feminist fighting for the sex-based rights of women and girls. Author, The Abolition of Sex. President, @WDI_USA”.
She, like my correspondent, thinks the idea that one can wake up feeling “80% female and 20% male” complete lunacy. Dansky also agrees with me that even accepting that you’re of pure male gender doesn’t mean you have to conform to the dress code of “muscle shirts.”
And Emma Hilton’s take:
What does “feeling 80% female” actually feel like?
Is it only 80% of your clitoris being sliced off in childhood? Maybe 80% probability of being kidnapped to warlords? You bleed through your knickers 4/5 periods? Only 80% of men try to control your fertility?
— Emma Hilton (@FondOfBeetles) July 31, 2023
In other words, Tyson seems to object to social pressure to conform to a simple male/female dichotomy, and yet reinforces that dichotomy when specifying the secondary signs of gender.
I’m not deeply offended by this, but it just seems a bit confused, and at least three women are offended. What do you think?
UPDATE: Click for Colin Wright’s take:
There is a significant amount of confusion and obfuscation to dissect here, especially concerning Tyson’s overt blending of sex and gender expression and his seemingly total acceptance of radical gender ideology that roots the terms woman, girl, man, and boy in identity and expression instead of biology.
Tyson is correct in pointing out that a person’s sex doesn’t inevitably dictate how they might choose to express themselves through clothing or makeup; but this is banal and rarely, if ever, contested point. From the context, it’s evident that Tyson is using the term “gender” to describe the ways in which people express themselves through grooming, attire, and makeup choices. Given this, it’s ludicrous to imply that people are “assigning” others a “gender.” No one is campaigning or attempting to enforce binary dress codes for males and females across society. So who is the “you” to which Tyson believes he is responding?
Tyson’s take appears to be the result of a successful Left-wing fear mongering campaign to dismiss and downplay legitimate concerns over gender ideology. Progressive gender activists wants to portray their critics as ignorant, backward bigots who retch at the mere thought of a man wearing nail polish. But this depiction strays far from reality.